The 2014 Tall Ships and Classic Invitational has been won by a steel ship built by the late sailing legend Bernard Kuczera and skippered by his daughter, Sofia.

The 80-foot Sylfia completed Saturday's course around the Bay of Islands in just under three hours 50 minutes, making it the 12th of 16 tall ships to finish, but the winner on handicap.

Sylfia was one of many steel vessels built by Polish-born Mr Kuczera, who disappeared at sea in May 2011. His seafaring daughter, back in Kerikeri for Christmas between voyages with the Greenpeace fleet, was at the helm.

The classic race was won by Mary of York, a Chesapeake skipjack owned by Ben and Felice Tombs, also from Kerikeri.

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One of the highlights of Northland's sailing calendar, the race has been organised by the Russell Boating Club for the past 39 years. Spokeswoman Christine Hall said 91 boats competed in a perfect breeze.

Highlights included the real tall ships Spirit of New Zealand, R Tucker Thompson and Breeze, non-racing entries taking part to add to the spectacle; and the Logan-designed vessels Wairiki (built in 1904, forced to pull out after breaking its boom), Waiomio (1935) and Gypsy (1939).

An all-comers fleet was a new category added this year to open the event up to anyone keen to race, including multihulls. The standouts were the large, fast catamarans Jimmy (based in Russell) and Elcie (Kerikeri).

The race was followed by a giant hangi for 900 people and live music until midnight.

Ms Hall said the event was growing every year and would be even bigger and brighter for next year's 40th anniversary.

It was the result of a huge effort by the Russell Boating Club and members of Russell community.

This year's 16 nautical mile course was contested by 22 vessels in the tall ships category, of which 16 finished, and 59 in the classic category. A tall ship is defined as any vessel longer than 30 foot on deck and with two or more masts.

Results (top 5)
Tall ships: 1 Sylfia, skippered by Sofia Kuczera of Kerikeri; 2 Kotahi, a Herreshoff ketch skippered by Bob Upperton of Kerikeri; 3 Black Panther (line honours with 2h 16m 22s), a John Spencer-designed schooner skippered by Auckland's David Howie; 4 Puriri Moth, a steel ketch skippered by Kaitaia's Matt Hudson; 5 Zebedee, a junk-rigged double-ender skippered by Alan Martenssen of Scotland.

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Classic invitational: 1 Mary of York, a Chesapeake skipjack skippered by Ben Tombs of Kerikeri; 2 Driftaway, a sloop skippered by Paihia's Richard Cross; 3 Restless, a 1919 sloop skippered by Tim Beattie of Russell; 4 Rivale, a Laurent Giles-designed cutter skippered by Simon Bliss of Whangarei; 5 Cora, a 1910 gaff-rigged cutter skippered by Bob Van Pierce of Kerikeri.

Joe Cotton Trophy for first wooden boat: Restless.

Zeke Patterson Trophy for first gaff-rigged vessel: Cora.